NEW HAVEN – The turnover chain, a massive link of metal with a chrome-plated bulldog hanging at the bottom, looked pretty good hanging from New Haven senior Kentrel Thomas' neck Friday night.
“That's mine, he better give it back to me,” New Haven coach Jimmy Linn joked.
Coach or not, Thomas would not have given up the chain without a challenge. Linn could ask Leo how that worked out for the Lions when they challenged Thomas.
With the Lions driving in the final two minutes, Thomas stepped in front of an AJ Restivo pass for an interception that secured New Haven's 24-21 win over Leo at John Young Stadium.
“Obviously that last interception was huge,” Linn said. “He's an all-state defensive back for a reason, and he'll take advantage of teams that try to pick on him in that situation.”
Just a minute before the interception, Thomas showed he's not too bad as a receiver either as he and senior quarterback Tim Jordan hooked up on a picturesque fade for a 16-yard touchdown that gave New Haven the lead.
Thomas, the Bulldogs' leading receiver, had seen only one ball come his way in the first half, but he and Jordan connected for six receptions and 63 yards in the second half.
The game-winner came on a play Jordan and Thomas have been practicing for four years.
“Obviously we've been hitting hitches all night, so we thought we'd trick them a little bit,” Jordan said. “(The defensive back) bought on the hitch. Honestly, last week we tried to run one and it was awful. We worked on it in practice all this week and he converted, it worked out.”
“Me and Tim go after practice every day and work on that,” Thomas added. “We've been doing that since freshman year, and we've got a strong bond.”
Jordan's bond with two other receivers helped New Haven (2-2, 2-0 Northeast Eight) build a 17-0 lead. Nick Sexton caught a 17-yard pass that helped New Haven led 10-0 a halftime, and Larmarr Hutchins had a 25-yard TD reception on the first drive of the second half for a three-score lead.
Meanwhile, Leo (2-2, 1-1) was looking for anything positive, especially after a first half in which it lost five fumbles.
Peyton Wall woke up the entire Lions' sideline when he returned a kick 96 yards to cut the lead to 17-7.
On their next possession, Restivo, who completed just 1 of 5 passes in the first half, hit Peyton McHale on a 48-yard strike on the first play, starting a 72-yard drive that ended with Wall scoring on an 8-yard run to make it 17-14.
Wall then gave the Lions the ball again with an interception. Senior running back Alex Wertman, who carried 29 times for 140 yards, ran the ball on eight of 12 plays in a 71-yard drive, scoring on a 9-yard run that gave the Lions a 21-17 lead with 9:51 to play.
“I thought the morale on the sideline was fine,” Linn said. “We know we can move the ball against any team if we can be consistent and not shoot ourselves in the foot with penalties.”
The Bulldogs' winning drive started at their 15 after a 55-yard punt from Carson McCauley. Jordan and Thomas connected five times on the drive, including the clincher with 2:21 to play.
“Our kids are tough, they're resilient and they overcame a lot in the second half,” Linn said. “I'm proud of them.”